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Saudi IKEA catalogue blasted for removing women from its pages

Jordana Divon
Shine On
October 1, 2012

IKEA catalogues are known for displaying every last detail of their furniture collections, down to kitchen accessories and light fixtures.

But as Sweden's Metro newspaper discovered, one major detail was left out of their latest catalogue distributed to Saudi Arabia: Women.

Business Insider performed a side-by-side comparison of the U.S. and Saudi versions of the catalogue and they found that a number of photos where women appear — from a mother in pajamas brushing her teeth to a print of an Audrey Hepburn picture — had been switched around to remove all traces of female presence.

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Metro notes even more laboriously that in one image a female model had been replaced by a male one, and distributors even went so far as to erase a female designer from the catalogue pages.

Saudi Arabia is often criticized for its lack of gender equality. Just last year it announced that women will be able to vote starting in 2015 — a right most of us in the West take for granted. However, women can still be jailed if they're caught driving.

IKEA lamented the oversight to the press, releasing a statement that read.

"We should have reacted and realized that excluding women from the Saudi Arabian version of the catalogue is in conflict with the IKEA Group values."

Company spokesperson Ylva Magnusson clarifies that this particular catalogue had been redesigned by a franchisee operating out of Saudi Arabia and did not conform to their "clear position concerning gender equality."

This is the second time in weeks than an IKEA catalogue has sparked controversy.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Swedish company pulled a photo from their Russian corporate website showing four men wearing colourful facemasks for fear it could signal support for jailed feminist punk band Pussy Riot.

"IKEA is a home furnishing company and a commercial organization," spokesperson Josefin Thorell tells the paper. "We are politically and religiously independent and our website cannot be used as a platform for political or religious campaigns."

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And the Canadian government also made headlines in August when it withdrew an Asian looking woman from its $100 bill redesign.

The Toronto Star notes that members of eight focus groups criticized designers for making an "Asian-looking" woman the symbol of our currency's highest denomination.

"Some believe that it presents a stereotype of Asians excelling in technology and/or the sciences. Others feel that an Asian should not be the only ethnicity represented on the banknotes. Other ethnicities should also be shown," reads an explanation from the 2009 Strategic Counsel report.

The bank quickly redrew the women to appear more "ethnically neutral."

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